Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fiasco

I bought Fiasco a while ago. It's a RPG without a gamemaster. There are sets that contain the place and time of the game and some general information on the characters, their motivation and goals and places as well as weapons/items that may play a role. The players take their pick from what's offered and begin to tell the story together. If all goes well, it will end in a total, well, fiasco of course. The tag line of the game is "Making your own Cohen Brothers movie in the time it takes to watch one".

I will play Fiasco for the first time (finally!) on Friday and I'm very much looking forward to it. I'm also nervous because I suggested the game to my RPG group and I'm worried that it won't work for us and that the guys won't have fun. Hooray for self-confidence. I've read a lot of reviews and people seem to have a blast playing the game and the guys I play with do like it when a story goes south, but I still worry. I'll let you know how it went.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Further


watch on YouTube

My favourite song by VNV Nation. I've seen them live so many times and this song still gives me goosebumps every time they play it.

Lock down

On Monday, we had a storybook theatre for small kids at the library. Afterwards, a boy was still waiting for his mum who had gone out in the meantime to do some shopping and we ended up looking at a picture book about the human body together.

When we come to a picture of an egg cell surrounded by sperm cells, I explain that both together make a baby. The boy thinks about this for a minute and asks why there will be only one baby if there are so many sperm cells. I say that only one can get in and that it locks the door behind itself. He thinks again and says: but what if the others try over there, at another door? I say that the sperm cell inside will look all the doors really quickly and that the egg cell doesn't let anyone else in. That convinces him, but I wish that I had found a better way to explain.

When I tell Mr Bookscorpion about it, he says: Why didn't you tell him that the sperm cell uses the central locking system?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Chai

Yay. I just made Chai for the first time and it was much easier that I thought it would be. The reason why I finally got around to making my own chai is that people drink it all the time in For the Win and it made my mouth water just reading about it.

I used:
1 stick of cinnamon
6 pods of green cardamom
6 cloves
Crush everything using a mortar and pestle or just a tablespoon and a wooden tray. Scrape the seeds out of
1" of vanilla bean, grind
1/8 tablespoon of black pepper
and grate
1/2 tablespoon of ginger
Put everything into a small pot and add 3/4 litres of water. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. Add 1/4 litre of milk and 4 tablespoons of black tea (Assam or any other unscented/unflavoured tea) and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and let sit for another 3-5 minutes, then strain through a sieve into a teapot. Add sugar to taste.

It's a bit more work than making normal tea, but it's so very tasty. I love the smell of cardamom and cloves and the faint taste of vanilla. If you have never drunk Chai, I really recommend that you give it a try. I found this article very helpful. There are many variations, you can use black and green tea and Roibos and it can be drunk hot or cold. I definitely play to try cold chai with vanilla ice.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book of Choice: For the Win

Goldfarming is big business – you play some online game, earn gold, points or bonuses and then you sell them to other players, but you do it not on your own, you have a boss who takes most of the profit. The game owners are not happy about that and send out players who fight goldfarmers, paying them a pittance compared to what they make off the games. But what happens if both realize that they are on the same side and that they can fight together for better wages, better working conditions? What happens if the players decide to take control of the game?

For the Win is a book for the WoW-players, for anyone who has ever played an online RPG and for anyone who loves playing, online or offline. It's a book for anyone who has never played an RPG in their life, but want to know what all the fuss is about. The first few pages alone , describing a battle in a dark Alice in Wonderland-world, will tell you.

It's also a book for anyone interested in the mechanics of economy and how it influences our lives. There are exciting fights (both on- and offline), vivid characters, exotic places and suddenly you find that you learned about inflation, Ponzi schemes, why gold is worth so much and (my favourite) Coase Cost. Look it up, it's fascinating and it's at the bottom of what is happening in all those Middle East countries that suddenly have uprisings on their hands because people talked on Facebook.

Cory Doctorow has the knack of writing books that are not only immensely entertaining, but that also teach you new things. If you want to find out for yourself, go to Craphound.com where you can download For the Win and his other novels for free and it's perfectly legal. Doctorow puts much of his writing online under a CC license before a print version is published. I wish more authors would do that.

This is the 16th book for the Library Challenge

Memo to Self

Memo to Self: do not uninstall stuff you assume is not needed on you Linux PC.

I thought I'd clean out my main menu and uninstalled a bunch of stuff and it seems that some of it was responsible for running the menu bar and some other parts of the GUI. It's not like the computer doesn't work any more, everything is still where I put it, it's just a lot harder to get to it now.

But the wonderful thing about Linux (Mandriva) is that it's usually fairly easy to get it up and running again. Even a full new installation wouldn't be very complicated, the worst thing would be to get Firefox the way I had set up it again. I think I can avoid that, though. On the whole, I'm just amused that I once again managed to get myself in trouble.

a few hours* and one running internet connection later:
Muahaha. I did it. I figured out what I needed to reinstall and I have my beautiful, easy to use GUI back again. Yay.
*the actual repair took about five minutes, I just had to wait until I was home from work.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Goodbye, Fourth Doctor

I just watched Logopolis and that means I'm done with the Fourth Doctor. Wow, I thought I'd never make it when I started, there were just so many episodes. But I had tons of fun and while some episodes were pretty much meh, most of them are awesome. Robots of Death, Pyramids of Mars, Genesis of the Daleks, The Leisure Hive and The Keeper of Traken were my favourites.

The Keeper of Traken introduces Anthony Ainley as the Master and he absolutely owns that role. I'm looking forward to seeing more of him in the remaining seasons.
Logopolis itself fell a bit flat for me. Maybe I was suffering from a Tom Baker overdose, but the whole story wasn't very gripping. The music was very cool, though, and so was the Watcher, who creeped me out whenever he appeared.

Of all the companions, Leela remains my favourite. I wish they had given her more to do, but even so she was a headstrong character who stood her ground next to the Doctor's often overwhelming personality.

So, on to the Fifth Doctor. Or maybe back to the Third?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Keep

I managed to get my hands on a copy of The Keep by Michael Mann and I had a great time watching it. The keep is an abandoned citadel in Romania that gets occupied by German forces during WWII, only to have the soldiers die in gruesome ways due to a demon that has been awakened.

The cast is impressive: J├╝rgen Prochnow, Ian McKellen, Scott Glenn and a ridiculously young Gabriel Byrne. I'm not sure they really had a clue what they were doing in that movie and I had no idea Ian McKellen had it in him to overact so badly. But there are many enjoyable scenes there, especially with Prochnow and Byrne whose characters clash over politics and pretty much everything else.
There are also many cringeworthy scenes, whenever the demon appears for example. It works well as long as you don't actually see anything, but once it materialises, I couldn't help giggling. My favourite scene is the one where Gabriel Byrne screams like a girl upon discovering the dead bodies of his men, which you get to see here at about 3 minutes in.

The citadel steals the show, though. It's a very imposing, menacing building and it would be awesome as a setting for a D&D or Cthulhu adventure. You can get a fairly good look at it in this trailer. It's a place that growls at you to stay away, but at the same time you're drawn to it.

The music by Tangerine Dream, the weird story and the intriguing visuals all come together to make this film memorable, despite its many failings. I wish there was a director's cut: there are about two hours missing, which explains many sudden jumps in the story. Maybe someday - I'd buy it!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ode to 7th Sea

I've been reading some 7th Sea sourcebooks these last few weeks and it reminded me why I love this game so much. If you're not familiar with it: it's set in an alternate history, in 1668, and there's everything from spies to courtiers to sorcerers to pirates to swashbuckling heroes...sometimes all in one person. Think Pirates of the Caribbean meets every Errol Flynn movie ever made meets The Man in the Iron Mask meets Dangerous Liasons.

I'm usually not a reckless player and I tend to hold back, not getting into fights unless I have to, and to sometimes overplan my actions. With 7th Sea, that's different. The game actually encourages you to go ahead and do things just for the heck of it.
You're cornered on top of a cliff, with twenty henchmen behind you and only the deep blue sea beneath you? You jump. Jumping off with a horse, even better.
You're in a swordfight in a ballroom and need to get somewhere quickly? Swing on the chandelier.
You are faced with five henchmen and you're armed just with a rapier? Attack. Swash, swash, buckle, buckle - go Basil Rathbone on them.
A high-speed chase in four-horse carriages? You bet. Throw in some whip-fighting and steering the horses standing up, just for fun.

Of course there's a chance that things will go wrong, it's not like you are invincible (or are playing Feng Shui). But you are a hero. We have a saying in our 7th Sea group: "Fast! Brave! Wrong decision!", but usually it's the right decision and even if it doesn't work out quite the way you planned, it will be memorable and it will serve to create a reputation for your character.

If you have never played it, I strongly suggest you give it a try. We came up with our own steampunked version set in 1880 for one of our rounds and it kicked seven kinds of butt.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sambre

Sambre by Yslaire chronicles the life of a family at the time of the French Revolution. The father had been obsessed with eye colour and wrote “The War of the Eyes”. The son Bernard meets Marie, a red-eyed woman, and falls in love with her, even though or precisely because red-eyed people are considered the Sambre's enemy in his father's book.
The comic is striking to look at – all colours are muted, almost greyscale and it makes the red, when it appears, even more remarkable. The story has something of a Greek tragedy, there's this sense that all the characters can't really escape their fate and are doomed from the beginning.
I was at times a bit annoyed by how much Marie defines herself through her love, she doesn't seem to have any other purpose and when she seems to have lost Bernard, she just gives up and drifts. On the other hand, her lack of action lets her survive, but I still found myself mentally yelling at her to do something – anything.

The series is my 15th book for the Library Challenge (although there are five books).

Friday, March 11, 2011

When students have completed their A-levels in Germany, they come up with a motto for year and traditionally, the motto must include ther word Abi, short for Abitur, the German A-levels, which qualif you for university. It's always a point of much discussion because usually it's printed on t-shirts for everyone and of course there are about as many opinions as there are students.

Monday a group of students discussed their Abi motto in my library. At first they talked about some more or less useful suggestions and then someone came up with "NSDAbi - 13 years of concentration and now we hit the gas". They seriously discussed using this as their motto and I seriously considered looking for the Hitler painting on the wall, since I apparently was listening to a group of Hitler Youth or something.
They finally decided against the motto after some girl said "Guys, imagine, like, meeting a Jew with a t-shirt saying that, how sick would that be?"

Those were Gymnasium students (grammar school/academic-track high school) in Germany and that means that they have spend a considerable time learning about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. It's not something you can avoid here and often, students are bored by it because they have to chew through the same topic several times in their years in school. I get that, but bored as you may be, one look at one of the photos taken after the liberation of, say, Dachau should be enough for anyone to keep from making such a joke (let alone seriously consider it).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Web Comics

Finally! I have made it through 8 years of Girl Genius and Questionable Content. It took me months, but I did it.
If you like Steampunk, then you are probably already familiar with Girl Genius but if not: go and read it. It's awesome. It has airships, steam-robots, monsters, great characters, hilarious jokes and art you can get lost in.

I started reading Questionable Content somewhere around the 1500s, but after 50 strips or so I was already addicted and needed to read the whole thing from the beginning. I enjoyed seeing the art of the comic evolve and seeing new characters being introduced - I totally adore Marigold, the shy Otaku-girl. The comic made me laugh out loud many times and go WTF? as few times. I'm fairly fluent in Internet and other slang, but I learned some new things from QC, usually from Pintsize. Here's a hint: if you come across something you don't know in QC, don't use Google Photo search to look it up. Wikipedia is usually your friend and less likely to show you things that cannot be unseen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

SciFi Challenge/Book of Choice: Earth Abides

A friend recommended Earth Abides by George R. Stewart to me and since I want to read more SciFi this year anyway, I gave it a go.
Ish, a young man is on vacation on a remote spot in California and by the time he notices that he hasn't seen any other human for weeks, the apocalypse is already over and mankind is pretty much extinct after a disease rapidly spread. Ish makes his way to New York and back, meeting a few peolpe on the way and finally settles down in his parents house in San Fransisco again, with a woman and later their children and other people - The Tribe.

What struck me most is how calmly the book is told. The years pass and even dramatic changes are accepted and become part of the daily life. It's a meditation on society, customs and traditions. There are no The Stand-like showdowns or Walking Dead-like drama, all that has already passed. But there is the gentle and slow developement of a new culture that turns away from the society is came from. Much is lost, knowledge and traditions, but new things are discovered.

I also liked the theme of population collapses, explored in the book with the example of cats, rats, ants, cattle, corn, wheat and other common animals and plants. Of course the human race is just another population that has collapsed.

The book was written in 1949, but it's very hard to find that out just by reading the text. There are some hints (no cellphones, the fact that Ish easily gets cans of DDT when the ants become a pest), but on the whole, the book is timeless.

I've had my own theme of post-apocalyptic books over the last few weeks and Earth Abides is one of the best. The theme "Men go and come, but earth abides" is very comforting and I'm sure that I will re-read the book a lot. I was listening to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack by Daft Punk while reading it and the two will stay connected in my mind, the music somehow fits the book very well.
I bought the SF Masterworks edition and I play to buy more from that series, there are some great books there and the editions ar fairly cheap.

This is my fourth book for the Science Fiction Challenge

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Artworks I'd Steal: El Greco

I love El Greco's paintings for the bold colours and the instantly recognisable figures. If you have seen one painting by him, you will absolutely recognise his style the next time you see another.
Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Toledo_by_El_Greco.jpg
Source. Wikipedia
The View Of Toledo is exceptional for a number of reasons, for example was painting landscapes devoid of persons very unusual durnig El Greco's time. But all art history aside, I love it for its eerie mood. For me, it seems to be only moments before a thunderstorm: quiet, filled with a strange light and it's like nature is holding its breath - all of which El Greco captures in this image. The deserted landscape gives the city a menacing air, aided by the contrast between the rounded hills and the sharp edges of the buildings.
For a more in depth analysis, you can read an excellent essay on the paintnig here

El Greco was unusual for his time and some of his paitings look very modern, not at all similar to what his contemoraries were painting. Look at the Version of St. John:
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:El_Greco,_The_Vision_of_Saint_John_%281608-1614%29.jpg
Source: Wikipedia
The painting has been drastically trimmed, which changed the composition, but I'm sure that even in its original state it would be equally striking. I'm always reminded of van Gogh when I see it.